Mumbai: Work across India and Pakistan will come to a grinding halt on Wednesday as bureaucrats, factory workers, farmers and millions of other cricket fans gather to watch the World Cup semi-final.
The clash between the two rival nations in Mohali, northwest India, is expected to take precedence over all government business. Share markets are likely to be becalmed, and roads eerily empty of traffic.
People calling in sick will struggle to convince their employers -- who perhaps do not expect a full day`s work anyway. "I will fall ill, the weather is just not right for my health," joked 24-year-old Manish Saxena, who works at a private Mumbai diamond export firm. On the eve of the game, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani -- who himself will be travelling to India to watch -- announced a national half-day holiday starting at noon local time.
No such blanket holiday applies in India, but many firms have bowed to the inevitable and opted to give their workers the afternoon off. Travel guide company Wcities, which is based in San Francisco, is one of many businesses that will close its Indian offices at midday ahead of the first ball being bowled at 2:30 pm.
"We have been given a half-day, but only on the condition that we make up for the work next week," staffer Melwyn D`Silva said. Santosh Mangaonkar, who owns an advertising firm in Mumbai, has also awarded all his staff a half-holiday. "This is a rare event. They have worked hard for some months -- it is time to make an exception," Santosh said.
Global consultancy firm KPMG said it would also close its offices in India by 1:00 pm. India`s banks and financial institutions are expected to work as normal -- in theory at least -- as the event falls just before the end of the country`s financial year on March 31, but many employees are expected to be glued to televisions. "One can expect share trading volumes to fall once the match starts," said Alok Churiwala, director with Mumbai brokerage Churiwala Securities. "It will be like what we had in school, a non-work day."
Chetan Bhagat, the successful Indian author, suggested that a nationwide work boycott was in the pipeline. "Tomorrow is the country`s biggest mass bunk ever. Are you joining?" he asked on his Twitter page Tuesday. In Pakistan, where cricket is a welcome distraction from violence and political instability, the whole country is expected to cheer on their national heroes.
Thousands of devout Muslim Pakistanis in Lahore, Karachi and Quetta will take part in mass prayer sessions during the day, asking God to guide their team to victory. The main cricket stadium in Lahore will broadcast the game live on huge screen to fans who will be allowed in for free.
Even big business meetings in Mumbai, India`s financial capital, have struggled to stay on topic.
"The mood has changed. From discussing targets and strategy, the boardroom chat has been whether Sachin Tendulkar will make his 100th international hundred," a banker at a state-run institution said on condition of anonymity.